Multiscale Spatiotemporal Visualisation

Development of an Open-Source Software Library for the Interactive Visualisation of Multiscale Biomedical Data

Although described in various ways, there is a pervasive trend in biomedical research towards the consideration of systemic processes, that is, phenomena observed in living organisms that cannot be explained within a single sub-system, but only as a systemic outcome resulting from the interaction of multiple sub-systems.  Traditionally, the complexity of the problems being investigated has forced us to concentrate on individual sub-systems, and the most common boundary separating these has been spatiotemporal scale.  A current challenge is the study and simulation of biology systems and multiple scales, which is why multiscale data collection and multiscale modelling have recently become synonymous with integrative research.  While great attention has begun to be paid to the development of methods for multiscale data collection and multiscale modelling, it is almost paradoxical that, so far, very little consideration has been given to another fundamental problem: how are we going to explore data collections or simulation results defined across a broad range of spatial and/or temporal scales, that cannot be entirely represented in space or time within the typical human perceptual range?

The number of VPH projects that will demand multiscale visualisation in the coming years suggests that this area should start to receive urgent attention but, surprisingly, it received almost no mention in the Visualization Research Challenges document produced jointly by the USA National Institute for Health and National Science Foundation in 2006; in our opinion, this is not because the problem is considered unimportant, but rather because it was considered too challenging.  In particular, the problem is so vast and multifaceted that no single group can even consider tackling it by itself.  So far only two groups, both represented in this consortium, have tried independently to develop possible solutions.  As part of the LHDL project, researchers at BED and B3C developed early prototypes to demonstrate two possible paradigms to deal with multispace and multitime datasets.  The second relevant work is derivative from a more general R&D project developed at partner KIT based on a new metaphor for interacting with digital media embedded in a four-dimensional (space-time) context called the Visual Journal.  Both works, while of great interest, are clearly insufficient to address the general problem of interactive visualisation of multiscale biomedical data, and should be considered only as starting points for the extended investigation necessary to resolve all the underlying issues.

The Multiscale Spatiotemporal Visualisation (MSV) project, by international cooperation between the European @neurIST and VPHOP integrated projects, the US National Alliance for Medical Imaging Computing (NA-MIC), and the New Zealand-based IUPS Physiome initiative:

  • to define an interactive visualisation paradigm for biomedical multiscale data,
  • to validate it on the large collections produced by the VPH projects, and
  •  to develop a concrete implementation as an open-source extension to the Visualization Tool Kit (VTK), ready to be incorporated by virtually any biomedical modelling software project.

MSV Project is partially funded by the European Commission under the Information Communication Technologies Programme (contract number 248032).